China will begin constructing next year the world's highest altitude airport in central Tibet under a $22 billion five-year development push to boost the region's infrastructure, the state media reported on Tuesday.
The airport, in Nagqu prefecture, will be built at an altitude of 4,436 metres — 102 metres higher than the airport at Bamda in Qamdo prefecture (also in Tibet), which is at present the world's highest airport, according to the Chinese government.
The state-run Xinhua news agency reported that the airport, which will take three years to build, will cost 1.8 billion yuan ($286 million). According to a work report released on Monday by an on-going economic work conference in Lhasa, China plans to add more flights next year “to connect major cities in Tibet and also link the plateau region with other major cities nationwide.”
The regional government expects Tibet's airports to handle 2.2 million passengers next year and 15,000 tonnes of cargo.
Chinese officials say the investment will boost the development of a region that has lagged behind the rest of the country. The government hopes that the new infrastructure will help promote tourism and encourage Chinese businesses to invest in Tibet, bringing the region economically closer to the rest of China.
Many Tibetans, however, fear that the increasing number of Chinese migrants because of the added connectivity will restrict employment opportunities for the local population.
Beijing plans to invest 138.4 billion yuan ($22 billion) in Tibet over the next five years in 226 major construction projects, the State Council, or cabinet, announced earlier this year. Many of the projects are aimed at boosting air and rail connectivity. Over the past year, the Chinese government opened new airports in Xigaze, Tibet's fifth airport, and earlier in northwest Ngari, close to the western section of the disputed border with India. While Chinese officials say the investments in airports and rail networks are aimed at boosting development, Indian defence officials have expressed growing concern at the widening asymmetry in border infrastructure between the two countries.